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April showers disguised as dusting of snow

Thu., April 5, 2012

As snow covered mainly grassy surfaces around Spokane and Coeur d’Alene on Wednesday, emergency managers in North Idaho were trying to figure out how to repair a series of road washouts caused by record March rainfall and melting snow.

The National Weather Service posted a winter weather advisory Wednesday as the flakes came thick and heavy at times.

The advisory was dropped at midday, but forecasters said the chance of snow or rain showers continues through Friday.

While snow in April may seem out of season, it’s actually pretty common in the Inland Northwest, said forecaster Steven Van Horn.

Spokane International Airport officially saw 0.8 inches of snow by Wednesday afternoon, short of the April 4 record of 2.3 inches.

The last time Spokane had no measurable snow in April was in 2007, although traces were recorded on two days. You would have to go back to 2002 for the last time Spokane did not see even a trace of snow.

On Wednesday, local accumulations were limited because the storm came during daylight hours, Van Horn said.

In Sandpoint, Bonner County commissioners on Tuesday formally declared a disaster after several rural roads washed out over the past several days. It was the second round of washouts in two weeks.

The Idaho governor approved the disaster declaration for Bonner County as well as Shoshone and Idaho counties, said Bob Howard, emergency director for Bonner County where nearly $700,000 in road damage was incurred.

Howard said no residents had been stranded and emergency repairs were being made where warranted.

“Our primary goal is life safety,” he said.

The most recent washouts were on Cocolalla Loop Road, Merril Martin Road west of Sagle and Gold Creek Road north of Sandpoint.

The state Homeland Security department is going to provide a 50 percent match for repairing damage, Howard said. The losses so far fall below a dollar threshold for seeking federal emergency assistance, Howard said.

But Wednesday’s storm was making local officials nervous because it was adding weight to saturated soils and water to drainages.

In Spokane on Wednesday morning, vehicles arriving downtown from higher elevations were showing an inch or two of snow on top.

One report had 5 inches of snow five miles northeast of Moscow, Idaho. Mountain areas were expected to see 6 inches of snow or more.

The cold front that produced the snow arrived less than a day after temperatures warmed into the lower 60s. The short warm-up raised pavement temperatures and prevented roads from getting icy at lower elevations, Van Horn said.

Forecasters said a lingering low-pressure area may trigger rain or snow showers across the region through Friday night.

Highs will be in the 40s until Saturday, when the temperature could reach the low 50s. Lows should be lower to middle 30s.

The next possibility of sunshine, or at least partly sunny skies, arrives on Easter with a high of 58 in Spokane and 57 in Coeur d’Alene.

Milder weather is expected early next week with highs returning to the upper 50s to lower 60s on Monday and Tuesday.

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